Chapter 18



It is often said that transcribing jazz improvisations is one of the best tools for learning to improvise jazz. Transcription is a great tool, but many questions arise: why? what to transcribe? how much? how to? what is done after transcribing? Analysis is defined as the separation whole into separate components for individual study. The previous chapters have dealt with many of these separate components, approaches and tools for developing jazz music. The material was gathered and sorted from hundreds of transcriptions of great jazz performances. How do these pieces fit into the whole of a jazz improvisation? This chapter will attempt to answer the why, what, how much, and what then questions of jazz transcription and analysis. Five well-known improvisations will be analyzed. The analyses should be studied in conjunction with repeated listening to the recordings.

Like so many other arts, learning jazz improvisation owes much to imitating the Masters. Every great jazz artist can list those they imitated while learning to play. These artists developed their own unique voice while emulating someone else; much the same way a child becomes a unique individual even though beginning by imitating parent’s words and actions. Historically, imitation was the only way jazz was passed on from one musician to another and from one generation to another. Books about jazz came later. Ear development is one of the primary benefits of transcribing. Training the ears to take musical dictation from an outside source helps the ears hear the music from the inside source. Imitation should go beyond just playing the notes and rhythms: an artists’ inflections and articulations should also be mimicked. There is a common musical vocabulary that all jazz musicians must know. This vocabulary is part of the socialization of jazz musicians. We often listen for that common language from an artist before accepting the unique artistic expressions. We are often more comfortable with the individual expression of an artist once we sense they have done their homework and speak our common language. Transcription expedites the development of melodic vocabulary.

Transcribe what interests you as an artist. Begin transcribing improvisations with a low degree of difficulty in order to develop skills and to prevent discouragement. The first attempts should be short phrases, maybe only two to four measures of a particular improvisation. One or two potent phrases can provide hours of practice room material. With practice, entire improvisations will be easier to transcribe. In the beginning an entire improvisation might be too difficult, too time consuming, and too much to digest to make it worth the investment of time.

Jazz Theory Resources

D and F will sound consonant and the other pitches will sound dissonant to varying degrees. Traces of one approach may be found. analyze the material.406 Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture HOW TO? There are many methods and tools to aid transcription. Analysis is defined as the separation whole into separate components for individual study. Some questions may lead to dead ends. phrasing and articulations. find ways of organizing our thinking about structure. Resist the temptation to check every single pitch with an instrument. Let your intellect assist your ears. In difficult passages it may be helpful to notate rhythms first. then the Bb. Have a list of questions on hand when you begin your analysis. Treat each improvisation as an individual avoiding forcing square pegs into round holes or dismissing one as irrelevant because it does utilize the same principles as another. and then fill in the secondary pitches that complete the line. Jazz Theory Resources . Learn to hear those groups of notes as you would perceive a noun clause or a verb clause in a sentence: not as separate words or letters but as a unit. The absence of a specific approach may be significant to the analysis. Take choice fragments and practice them literally in all keys. Do not try to make the improvisation fit your idea of what should be there. another on improvising over the harmony using common melodic outlines. Determine what is being done literally and conceptually. pitches. Try to hear phrases. These may help the process. One improvisation may focus on thematic and motivic transformation. identify the primary pitches on downbeats and significant rhythmic places. Leave it behind. the job is not to justify every note. another may rely on paraphrasing the original theme. train our ears and brains to listen more intently and intelligently to the music we love. not just individual pitches. and then move on to another area. No improvisation will include all the elements on any list. There are many digital devices that can slow down the playback of a recording and even stop the recording on a single note. WHAT THEN? After completing a transcription fragment or complete improvisation. Stopping a melodic line on every pitch and plucking randomly on an instrument to find the pitch will be time consuming and counterproductive. analyze what is actually in the music. or to justify any note. A specific approach may be searched for and not found. and then connections and conclusions can be formulated. Groups of chromatic and diatonic dissonances will usually point to a consonant note. Examine the same fragments conceptually: what musical principles are at work? How could the same principles apply in a different way to the same or other musical settings? What could be added or subtracted to the fragment and how else might it be applied? One fragment could occupy hours of inventive work in the practice room. Practice playing the entire transcription along with the recording matching rhythms. Several improvisations will share similar characteristics. Data must be gathered. Determine that by asking the questions. There is no set formula or paradigm for a jazz improvisation. if a piece is in Bb. but can in some ways be damaging to the learning process. Write out the phrase and then check it for accuracy with an outside source. By examining outstanding improvisations by great jazz artists we can find specific things to practice. Learn to depend on your ear. Analysis begins with asking the right questions. Better questions yield more useful information. For example. sorted into categories and classified. and later determine to be insignificant for the analysis. ANALYSIS Why analyze a solo? There is a practical motive for most jazz theorists: we want to play quality jazz solos.

Compositional Devices for Motivic Development A. Harmonically Specific 1. Scales (related first to the key center. C. Harmonic superimposition 1. move to harmonic specificity and end by paraphrasing the original theme or melody. arpeggio tones. Step progression: simple ascending or descending step motion in the middle of more angular lines. Specific arpeggios (1-3-5-7 & 3-5-7-9) 2. Beethoven and others will reveal the same: that variations are based on melodic or harmonic material. Sequencing: Transposing to other pitch levels in a repeating series. Fragmentation: Using a smaller portion of the initial idea. Mode changes 5. Paraphrasing the Melody A. Within an improvisation. The list below reviews some of these devices that are illustrated in chapter 12 beginning on page 318. The new material can occur before. Jazz Theory Resources . and some macroscopic. What figurations were added to the melody? (NTs. Within these two large categories are many separate divisions. An improvisation can be based on the melodic material or the harmonic structure. 1. Harmonic Generalization 1. You may have to examine small pieces of the solo. III. compositional and motivic devices may be applied to any of the developmental processes listed above. Triadic generalization 2. Mozart. A study of theme and variations by Bach.Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture 407 Some of your search should be microscopic.) C. If the improvisation is based on melodic paraphrasing. was it specific or general? I. (Outline no. down to individual notes in some cases.) B. etc. How was the rhythmic content altered? C. What elements recur in the improvisation and how are they similar or different? B. PT. Common clichés B. D. SPECIFIC QUESTIONS to ASK ABOUT an IMPROVISATION: The outline below is a source for questions about the specific devices used to create an improvisation. Improvising on the Harmony A. Repetition: The theme must recur for it to be a theme. Addition or interpolation: The opposite of fragmentation. Side slipping or planing An improvisation may include many overlapping concepts. Specific scale colorizations 4. You should also step back and look at the overall larger picture of the solo: how does it build? what are the devices that give the entire solo form and structure? Is there a shape and how is it achieved? Examine the trees and the forest. 1 is a typical example. or in the middle of the original motive which is usually intact and recognizable. How was the general contour ornamenting or embellished? II. after. what devices were used? If the improvisation is based on the harmonic progression. Blues scales 3. or specific chord symbol) 3. Material is added to the motive. 2 & 3 5. A single phrase may begin using harmonic generalization. Additions to the basic progression 3. Tritone substitutions 2. Outlines nos. Guide tones (3rds & 7ths) 4.

Length (short or long. Contrasts to look for: A. after) C. A phrase can be long or short. Musically this can apply to the rhythmic units. the intervals and the orchestration. Retrograde inversion: the original can occur upside down and backwards. Diminution: To diminish is to reduce something. G. relationship) B. J. Mode Change: The motive might be set in other modes. Iteration: Repetition. Quotes from other sources After closely examining individual notes in relationship to the original melody or harmonic structure. Loud and soft D. Simplicity and complexity E. Retrograde: The motive is played with the pitches in reverse order. They can be inverted using exact intervals or generally following the diatonic intervals. Pitches may be displaced by moving them up or down an octave. Phrasing A. the intervals and even the orchestration. it is helpful to view the improvisation from a larger perspective. Displacement: May be applied to rhythms or pitches. on. A motive may be rhythmically displaced to a different part of the phrase earlier or later than might be expected L. Making a simple rhythm more active by repeating melodic pitches. Augmentation: To augment is to make something larger. This can apply to rhythmic units. This is not perceived by the casual observer. Placement (before. High and low ranges C. and after the downbeat. Short and long phrases F. Inversion: The intervals of the original idea can be turned upside down. Embellish or ornament: This differs from the addition of notes before or after as it involves the elaboration of the original note using neighbor tones while still following the general contour of the original idea. K. F.408 Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture E. Do the length and placement of phrases contribute to the musical result of the improvisation? IV. This is also not always recognizable to the casual observer. I. phrase groups and the overall form? VI. on the downbeat. How are the phrases formed without considering harmonic implications? Is there a relationship between phrases? Are there connections? Do several phrases work together to imply larger architectonic forms? A phrase can begin only three different ways: before the downbeat. Connections (last notes or note of one phrase begins the next phrase) What types of rhythmic character are present in the improvisation? Were there instances of polyrhythmic superimposition? Was there a contrast between simple and complex subdivisions? How does the rhythmic character contribute to the structure of phrases. contrasts) How was contrast used as a developmental tool? VII. Rhythmic Development (polyrhythm. but can be a useful device. Thick textures and space G. O. Harmonic specificity and harmonic generalization B. Agitated and calm Jazz Theory Resources . H. M.

Bill Evans described the tune So What as “a simple figure based on 16 measures of one scale. b. Davis improvised two thirty-two measures choruses employing two major themes. verse. conversational. fragmentation.4-7.1 &c Ó œ œ. œ œ œ &œ œ . Davis chose to develop his ideas using motivic devices including: repetition. œ œ œ œ œ œ . Theme no. Fragment b.10 and was answered by fragment c. phrase. B. ‰ jœ œ œ œ œ a. was balanced by the falling fragment of c. E. a. ending with repeated note) remains unchanged. was saved for the end of the phrase as Davis worked primarily with fragments a. but in conjunction with numerous appearances of fragment c.6. .. b. The fragment c.7. were changed. C. > œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ Ó J œ œ > . Poor Dan is in a droop.. X j Œ Ó . civic. Examples: radar. œ ˙. Seq. This occurrence alone may be difficult to hear. Jazz Theory Resources . Overall Character Agitated. The rising fragment of a.: b. b. etc.Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture 409 The improvisation can be examined in an even larger context. Sequence: b. Davis sequenced the theme in mm. œ. œ œ œ œ Fragment b. but the general shape (descending.” Without the harmonic framework of traditional harmony. The pitches of c. What is the overall shape and character? What musical mechanisms help determine the contour? VIII. or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. . and referred to both themes in his closing statement. The D was repeated up an octave to bridge the first A section with the second and recalls the initial “sigh” motive. refer. Fragment c.2 after a initial “sigh” motive. and diminution.” Miles Davis did not base his So What improvisation on “scale running. c. 1 I Œ Theme 1: Œ a. one for each chorus with some overlap. Davis introduced theme 1 in m. sequencing. and c. cont. What musical elements contribute to the overall mood? When is the high point of the solo? How is that achieved? Resolves conflict or not? What is attractive about the solo? sound? rhythm? melodic ideas? technical interest? formal? feeling? Harmonic vocabulary It is recommended that the following improvisation analyses be studied in conjunction with frequent listening to the recordings. b. SO WHAT: MILES DAVIS In the liner notes from the Kind of Blue recording session. occurred inverted in m. D. a. and b. rotator. was transposed up a diatonic third in m. 8 of another and 8 more of the first. was rhythmically displaced to end on the upbeat of beat four in m. calm. The theme is a palindrome1 with an additional note at the end. 1 can be divided into three parts as indicated by the lower case letters a. c. 18. at the ends 1 A word. relentless. F. deified. A..

but inverted and the rhythmic value of the repeated notes is augmented 7 bœ œ > b œ œ Œ b œ œ ˙ b œ & bœ œ b œ b ¿ .31. b> œ . bœ ^ œ œ # œ œ # œ bœ bœ œ nœ ‰ j œ bœ b œ b> œ b œ b œ > b> œ bœ > Œ Ó œ > œ œ œ > (1/2 V) &œ . 5 c. this time transposed up a perfect fifth higher than in m.15. The pitches (D and A) are the same as those in m. Fragment c. Another scale passage followed that included the unusual leap of a tritone (D-Ab) in m..30 answered by fragment c. followed. œ œ # œ j Œ ‰ & œ œ œ œ 3 b. b œ œ . as all preceding phrases. œ Ó Ó ˙ Jazz Theory Resources . inverted œ Œ J œ œ œ œ œ . This short idea signaled the end to the first chorus. Ó Ó ‰ œ œ J The inversion of fragment b. returned in m. transposed a tritone away from its first occurrence in m. The line ended with fragment c. c.25 and m.15. The inversion of b. occurred with the same pitches in m. up a half-step from its last appearance in m. A and the leading tone C#.10 and again was answered by fragment c.7. A scale passage that may suggest fragment a. a passing tone (G). œ J (1/2 V) 3 œ . > 1 c. œ œ. Ó > c. b. c.3. b. was preceded by triadic material in m.3 and m. These two phrases in the second A section are symmetrical. Fragment c. This phrase. returned in m.23. again. bœ b¿ bœ > > Œ bœ œ bœ ¿ > > & b œj œ .14 transposed up a step from m. ended with fragment c. inverted &˙ 9 Ó > œ > ˙ œ œ c.13: the E a leading tone to F. ∑ Section B began with a.410 Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture of phrases the relationship becomes clear. ˙ > œ œ . a. Theme 2: œ . . œ c. œ ˙ ∑ . . inverted &œ Œ Ó Œ ^ œ > œ.

2 floated above the rhythm section using notes of longer values. 1 was introduced between the pitches of D and A. The answer in the lower octave. 1.34-35.53-54) that recalled fragment a. œ œ. 2 anticipated the second chorus and is answered in mm. bœ bœ bœ J . The first two short phrases end with fragment c. œ œ œ ¿ œ > > a. . œ & ‰ ¿j œ œ œ . œ Œ ‰ jœ œ œ b. 2 transposed to another pitch level in m. J ‰ ˙ Theme 2 down octave: ˙ (1/2 V) Theme 2 answer T2 down octave T2 answer in upper octave: &˙ 7 Ó Œ (1/2 V) œ J . Davis chose a secondary theme that contrasted in many ways to the theme no. Theme no.4-7: b. An inverted fragment b. > œ œ œ œ œj œ . b. theme no. Theme no. œ (1/2 V) œ . 2.36-37 and was answered in mm. of theme no. in mm.45-47 which is nearly identical to the sequence that occurred in mm. Theme no. A short passage (mm. c. œ œ œ œ œ œ3 Œ œ #œ ˙ b. T2 with PTs down octave: œ ¿ bœ œ œ bœ Ó Œ ‰ œj > Jazz Theory Resources . 2 was stated again in the lower register in mm.Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture 411 The second chorus is an ideal structural point to introduce a second theme. 1. a. b. 1. œ œ J ^ œ œ. II & 3 w Theme 2: œ. Echoes mm. 1 was rhythmically active with eighth note subdivisions.50-51 was filled in with passing tones. 1. ∑ T2 up half-step: Sequence of T1.4-7 was an additional reminder of the material of theme no. Davis continued the development of theme no. Bluesy response (1/2 V) œ. c. 2 is between C and G in an upper register. appeared to be a part of the answer to theme no. & 9 T2 up half-step: œ J b˙ œ . 2. Theme no. The phrase in mm. 2 up a half-step. œ. of theme no. Ó Œ bœ 5 Having reacquainted the listener with theme no. . & bœ œ 1 œ > œ > c.55.38-39 similarly to mm.34-35. inverted The second A section of the second chorus began with a bluesy response to theme no. It is as if Davis wanted to remind the listener of the first theme before further development of the second theme. . inverted œ œ. j œ œ. At section B of the second chorus Davis played theme no. j œ. 1 ended with theme no. 2. theme no.

&œ Œ Ó > 1 > ‰ j œ œ œ bœ #œ œ ˙ œ > > > a. T2 transposed: Ó Ó œ œ œ œ a.. inverted œ > œ œ œ œ œ . 2 in the original key. 1 as a Palindrome &w w w w w Jazz Theory Resources . 1 is clear as illustrated in ex. a. 18.63. 2 answer that included the inverted fragment b. œj œ œ # œ œ . c. j j œ œ. T2 œ . 3 a.2. œ j œ œ œ The “M” shaped palindrome structure of theme no. 18. 18. Davis seemed to follow this model and refers to both themes in his concluding line. 1 Fragment a. Theme no. 1 ending with a rhythmic augmented fragment c.3 Theme no. Davis anticipated the last section of the chorus with a return of theme no. c.59 was rhythmically more active than previously heard. œ œ œ Œ Ó . 2 recurred in m. Fragment b. A concluding paragraph of a well written essay sums up the major points discussed in the exposition and body. j & Œ œ œ œ.œ œ > . examine and compare their characteristics.412 Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture > > œ œ bœ œ ‰ bJ œ b œ b œ œ . A response grew out of the theme no.45-47. The line begins with fragment a. œ - Œ Ó EXCERPTS from SO WHAT Separating individual motives and themes.4-7 or mm. makes them easier to trace. as if to restate the sequences found in mm. . j œ œ œ œ ˙ œ b. J bœ œ œ ‰ bJ & b œ b> œ œ b> . 2 œ œ œ. 1 is shown with its three fragments in ex. and fragment c. T2 answer . T2 & 7 ˙ ˙ ˙ œ. and then Davis played the remainder of theme no. the component parts of the whole improvisation. Theme no. 18. The answer in m.2 Theme no.3. Fragment c.

œ œ œ .6 Twelve occurrences of fragment c. though inverted.5 Repetition of theme no.4-7.) The fragment from mm.45-47 b. œ & ‰ ¿j œ œ œ .30-31. > œ œ J b.64-65 with the original pitches. 18. b. 43 and 47.47. Davis ended the improvisation in mm. & 47 œ œj œ .45-47.4-7. 18. Davis created a rising step progression with the endings of the three phrases in mm. 18. & ‰ œj œ œ œ 4 œ œ a. The first two occurrences were almost identical. c. Forty-one measures after mm.4 Repetition of theme no. b. b. Twelve phrases in the improvisation ended with fragment c. MM. œ b. The original pitches. 1 by repeating the first two fragments. a. Davis recalled and played almost the exact phrase in mm. X œ. but up a half-step. b. c. .60-61 used the same pitches as that of m. transposing fragment b. but the rhythmic values were doubled. œ œ œ œ œ œœ œœ > . a.24-25 and mm. returned in the two occurrences at mm.15.41. as phrase endings & j œ œœŒ 3 & j œ œ œ 8 3 & œ œ ˙ 12 & œ œ œ 16 j & b œ ¿ b œj œ .Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture 413 Davis began developing theme no.4-7. both ended on an upbeat and both used the dominant falling to the tonic.21-22 recalled the fragment heard in m. 45 jœ œ œ œ ¿ œ > >. The third occurrence in m. and each fragment was a step higher than the previous (mm.12 was a bit disguised with smaller intervals and augmented rhythmic values. 1 fragments from mm. and returning to the complete theme in this phrase from mm. the dominant and tonic. a. This recurrence of material unified the improvisation more than any other element. Each phrase ended with fragment c.15. 21 & œ J œ ˙ 25 & œ J œ œ 31 & 41 œ œ œ & 43 œ œj œ . J & œ Jœ œ 61 &œ œ 65 œ Jazz Theory Resources . 1 fragments from mm. a. were closer to the original although the interval was slightly diminished. the rhythmic values of fragment c.41-47. In m. > œ œ œ œ œj œ .

2 floated while the first was more rhythmically active. œ - Œ Ó a. Theme no. Theme no. œ œ œ œ œ œ3 & Ó Œ œ. Davis introduced a contrasting second theme. Ó . inverted & Ó ˙ 33 w œ. or a superimposed C major triad over the D dorian.8 œ œ œ œ ˙ 57 ˙ ˙ œ.56. j œ œ œ œ #œ œ . œ ¿ bœ œ œ bœ & bœ J 55 œ bœ . œ J .63 as a part of the last phrase. 2 b.48. c. a summary including material from both themes. œ œ. J ‰ & ˙ 37 ˙ bœ 49 Ó Œ ^ œ œ. 2 > œ œ bœ #œ œ ˙ & ‰ œj œ > > > 62 œ.œ > . œ J b˙ œ . bœ bœ bœ J . A short reference to the triadic theme no. Theme no. . j œ œ œ œ ˙ œ & Ó 18. 2 returned anticipating the B section in m.7 Occurrences of Theme no. 2 recurred one last time in m.54-55. Jazz Theory Resources . 18. The triadic shape of the answer was disguised with passing tones. 2 in m. Davis repeated theme no. Last phrase of improvisation as summary of all thematic materials Theme no. 2 with the first two pitches transposed down an octave.414 Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture At the midpoint of the two chorus improvisation after developing one theme and its fragments for the first half. the 7-9-11. Davis anticipated the last A section with another return of theme no. 1 was primarily constructed with the notes of a D minor chord and the second was based on the upper extensions. Theme no. 2 occurred in mm. . œœ J (1/2 V) œ œ.

inversion of b. & c. A (mm.. FIRST CHORUS A (mm. fragmentation. B (mm. this modal improvisation included no guide-tones or outlines.. fragments a.25-32) Fragment a.. sequencing. This improvisation is an exceptional lesson in motivic development and economical construction. & inversion of b. 2.33-40) Theme no. fragment of Theme 2 A (mm. Miles constructed a logical improvisation manipulating fragments of his themes like Picasso in an analytical cubist painting. which made it easier to see and hear the simple structures. B (mm. fragment a. Davis developed two main themes and their fragments using motivic devices including: repetition. & c.Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture 415 OVERVIEW of THEMATIC MATERIAL The charts below provide a overview of the thematic material in the Davis improvisation. inversion of b.. b.17-24) Fragments a.62-65) Without a harmonic progression. fragments a. Miles was frugal with notes. There were no instances of exotic scales or harmonic substitutions. Jazz Theory Resources . 1.9-16) Fragment a.... 2. Summary of all ideas in the last phrase: (mm. 1.41-48) Theme no. 2. inversion of b. inversion of b SECOND CHORUS A (mm.57-64) Theme no. A (mm.. c.1-8) Theme no. b. A (mm. and diminution.49-56) Theme no..

416 Chapter 18 ANALYSIS: The BIG Picture ANALYSIS SUMMARY In any search for meaning. More questions yield more information and the more information helps bring the picture of the whole into better focus. was written from materials gathered from transcriptions. linear entities and avoid strict. accept the answers. Measure lines exist only in music notation. Use large scale charts of improvisational approaches in creating improvisation agendas for practice. What elements contribute to the character of the whole or parts of the improvisation? Good music theory reveals something about the way the music sounds and suggests practical applications for implementing those concepts. Some lines can be at once harmonically general and specific. How are the phrases related? What is the rhythmic character? The significant notes may be on the downbeats of the measure but they can be anticipated and delayed. ask the questions. Learn in all keys. etc. If one tool for analysis works. There is no indisputable paradigm for the form or approach to a jazz improvisation. Add to. then implement it. There are many elements of music about which many questions can be formed. Learn to consider melodies lines as horizontal. Extract rhythmic ideas to add to your vocabulary. Developing Practice Materials The book. Many musical materials overlap. when it becomes ineffective. displacement. A common melodic outline implies the use of guide tones and may create a step progression. There are numerous examples of extracted practical musical concepts and applications for implementing them in improvisations and compositions. replace it with another tool. These would include: • Extract specific examples from solos. Transpose to minor. Include contrasts between simple and complex subdivisions. take away and personally adapt these ideas. • • Jazz Theory Resources . Guide tones may be observed within a line based on triadic generalization. the answers can only be as good as the questions asked. vertical thinking. Learn to examine more than just notes in relationship to chords. An outline may be sequenced. Be prepared to accept the music as it is. Improvisations are as unique as the artists who create them. polyrhythmic ideas. Comprehensive Technique for Jazz Musicians.

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